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HomeOpinionConscience-keeper Yogendra Yadav is the Ravish Kumar of Indian politics

Conscience-keeper Yogendra Yadav is the Ravish Kumar of Indian politics

Yogendra Yadav is no Khan Market causeratti, preferring to work instead from the ground up.

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On Unnao, Yogendra Yadav reminded India why it needed to feel outraged, and gave courage to the rape survivor with a call for a protest that said #TumAkeliNahinHo.

On the counter-letter from 62 artistes and intellectuals, he called them out as courtiers.

On the Lok Sabha election, as early as 19 May, Yogendra Yadav was warning India of a BJP hegemony, which he said would be stronger than the Congress hegemony of the 1980s because it is accompanied by “brute and effective use of state power”, “raw street power”, and “cultural and ideological hegemony”.

Cometh the moment, cometh the man. Every country needs a conscience-keeper, someone to remind them of the difference between the right and the wrong, who makes them feel ashamed of making convenient choices, who makes their hearts swell with pride for being forever honourable, who reminds them that fortitude is its own reward.

When times are dark, especially.

Also read: Dear Rahul, Congress part of problem India faces. Solution lies outside: Yogendra Yadav

Kurta-gamcha & grounded thought

India has a handful of such people left, and Yogendra Yadav, 55, is one of them.

Yadav is a great advertisement for homegrown intellectuals, with his khadi kurta-gamcha appearance and his grounded thought. He may even be considered Gandhian, in the old-fashioned way, with his focus on the village economy, farmers’ welfare and environment. His refusal to get angry, especially when provoked during public debates, may be considered an abhorrence of violence, while his departure from the AAP is clearly a sign of his idealistic quest for an unalloyed style of politics.

His integrity cannot be doubted – call him the Ravish Kumar of Indian politics. He’s no Khan Market causeratti, preferring to work instead from the ground up. He chooses his causes carefully, aligning with the right organisations, and trying to amplify them rather than reinventing the wheel.

People like Yogendra Yadav brave screaming television anchors. They withstand vicious trolls. They pour their anguish into words that are being erased from public discourse – important words such as democracy and dissent. They come out on the streets to pray for a rape survivor from a town that time would have forgotten. They speak truth to power, no matter who is in power.

And, they always take Robert Frost’s road less travelled.

Road less travelled

When he was a professor at Panjab University, he left his rather-nice apartment at Sector 11 in Chandigarh to live in Daddu Majra, a colony where slum-dwellers had been shifted.

When he had established himself at the Centre for the Study of Developing Studies in Delhi as a leading psephologist, he went on a sabbatical to become an anti-corruption activist along with Arvind Kejriwal.

When the fledgling party, the Aam Aadmi Party, was finally in power, he gave it up – or was expelled depending on which version you believed – to strike out on his own with lawyer Prashant Bhushan, because he disagreed with the crushing of dissent. As Yadav said in his answer to the removal in 2015: “The kangaroo trials, expulsions, witch-hunts, character assassination, rumour campaigns and emotional theatre to justify such macabre acts — all this is so true of the Stalinist regime.”

And despite having once been a key member of Sonia Gandhi’s pet project, the National Advisory Council, to oversee the implementation of the Right to Education Act, he was the first to announce after the exit poll results for the Lok Sabha elections were declared that the Congress party should “die”.

All this in a restrained manner and with a well-reasoned argument, which is rare in today’s time of high-decibel drivel, I mean, debate.

Also read: Yogendra Yadav: Respecting people’s mandate doesn’t mean worshipping those who win elections

Individual and politics

A former colleague in the Aam Aadmi Party, Kamal Mitra Chenoy, calls him a deep-thinking person who, however, has been left behind by other activist people and causes. “Because of his interest in psephology, he ably understands electoral politics and its problems. It is a pity that he was unable to find himself a secure position in the politics that he is committed to,” he says. He has a role as an individual in politics, he adds.

And, Yadav appears quite content to follow that path as national president of the Swaraj India, a political party, and as member of the Swaraj Abhiyan, a movement that focuses on four core initiatives: anti-corruption, anti-communalism, farmers’ distress and youth empowerment. It draws on the work done by existing people’s organisations in these spheres, whether it is the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan on the Right to Information Act, or Narmada Bachao Andolan on resettlement or the Right to Food Campaign on food security.

Swaraj India’s tagline is telling: India Deserves Better. Let’s Build It Together. His long-time friend and colleague, from his days at Panjab University, and professor of history, M. Rajivlochan, says Yadav wants to change the way politics is done in this country. “We need more people like him in public life. If he is able to convince the people of Haryana in the forthcoming assembly elections that they need not suck up to their corrupt leaders, it will be a great achievement,” he says.

And make no mistake, he will do it his way. Rajivlochan recalls: “During the protests against the Nirbhaya rape, he was one of the leaders of a group with about 50 people. This group went on to sit peacefully in protest near India Gate. This peaceful sit-in so irked the Delhi Police that they resorted to lathi-charge.” It is not just that Yadav protests against wrongdoing, but that he does so in a reasoned, rational, and well-informed manner. As he said at the LSE South Asian Centre event in 2018: “People like me feel the very idea of India is under threat… in a systematic way with some sort of political support.”

Always a political person

What he also offers is a politics of hope. As he said at the LSE South Asian Centre, the challenge is to reimagine and reinvent the idea of India. He looks to the young, and believes they want something better. That’s what organisations like Swaraj Abhiyan hope to achieve – a modern India that stays connected to the country’s cultural civilisation. He sees this moment as an opportunity to create an “Indian modernity”. “BJP’s heroes are not the heroes of the young… They don’t believe in Savarkar but in Bhagat Singh, but the trouble is most young people don’t know that he was a socialist… Why can’t we talk more about Bhagat Singh or Vivekananda?”

In a 2015 profile for India Today, Asit Jolly wrote that Yogendra Yadav “derives his calm from the composure that comes from three decades of teaching and supervising research”. Despite his troubles with AAP, the report said, he had no intention of quitting politics. “My life so far,” he was quoted as saying, “was preparation for exactly what I am doing today. And this is certainly not something I intend giving up any time soon.”

Indeed, it would be a betrayal of his mentor, the late Kishen Pattnaik, a Lohiate and socialist from Odisha, whose Samata Yuvjan Samaj sparked his interest in politics when he was at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1983.

“I’ve always been a political person who strayed into the world of political science for far longer than I would have preferred,” Yadav had said in an interview to India Today.

It can safely be said that both fields are richer because of his presence.

Also read: This election, EC has failed the litmus test of appearing to be fair: Yogendra Yadav

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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  1. I don’t know who is more shameless – this author or Yogendra Yadav, without whose knowledge this propaganda piece would not seen the light of day.

  2. The author quotes “Because of his interest in psephology, he ably understands electoral politics and its problems. It is a pity that he was unable to find himself a secure position in the politics that he is committed to,” If he understood so much of electoral politics, then why has he not been able to win a single legislative seat so far? In my opinion he should not be so utopian and become practical, and take blame for any failings, like not acting so innocent about the break-up of the AAP when he knows who were the others responsible.

  3. WOW!!! Someone is actually writing an article on Yogendra Yadav, and trying to convince how great he is. Seems like YY has left his other work to really work on his image using his network. Now when is someone writing the biography of this neither here (NO Kailash Satyarthi) nor there (NO JP Narain) loser?

  4. Very well written piece.
    Maharshi Arbindo, Acharya Kriplani, Dr Lohia, Madhu Limaye, George Fernandes, Rajnarayan …….. there may be host of other names too, who believed in politics of values they stood for. One may agree or disagree to the point of view they cherished but the country badly needed them. Of late, politics of values has taken a back seat in the blind race for grabbing power, but the voices of intellects and values need to be heard and thought over.
    What would have happened if Yogendra ji would have stayed with AAP and have become a Delhi Minister – the country and democracy would have gained and have become richer. It is now history as to why he and some others had to part ways with Arvind Kejriwal ji for whatever reasons. Even Anna have had his reservations about AAP and it’s administration. This has happened always in the past too when ideology and convictions had to go to margins leaving the mainstream. There have been many failed agitations and movements in our country.
    Significance of a person in politics is measured by his numerical strength, one who does not have it are often not taken too seriously.
    There are certain lost opportunities too in politics, which history perhaps does not forgive. Recalling everything, I feel Yogendra ji and his friends should have stayed on with AAP at least untill they attained certain political root and stability. But certain things in those times could not be handled the way they should have been. This resulted in AAP being limited to Delhi only. Otherwise, Anna agitation had all the potential of empacting the all India politics.
    Just recall the panic in Congress when Ramdeo Baba landed in Delhi for his Ramlila ground Dharna. And ponder over – what would have have happened if the Baba would not have escaped from Ramlila ground and let himself arrested by the Delhi police instead? These are perhaps the occasions when the time didn’t match the demands of history.
    Be it what it may, people like Yogendra ji is required to be in public life in whatever position and capacity destiny may allow. Dr Lohia knew too well he will never be in the govt – still he kept his movement on and people did support him. This never deterred him taking on a mighty and loving Prime Minister like Nehru. People loved Nehru but people loved Lohia too.
    Yogendra ji’s party may not have the potential of becoming a formidable political force at least in foreseeable future but it would definitely have it’s ideological impact over body politik. He should be travelling the country, meeting people and spreading his view points. This would have it’s own impact and influence over the public opinion and public perception, though he lacks the so-called charishma and mass appeal. He may have to enroll some real politicians fitting into his ethos. For the kind of politics his Swaraj Party envisage, is somewhat too precious and it must live on!

  5. When he speaks he comes across as well reasoned. However, you can see through the cynical politics once you read his articles. His stand on Delhi university proposal for 4-year degree reeked of trying to have it both ways. His reaction to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was to politicize it and to turn it into an employee issue. My belief is that he has no core beliefs and is not a team player. He is a bad role model for either a politician or an intellectual.

  6. Yogendra Yadav is one of those tired old povertarians ( in Shekhar Gupta’s terminology), who would move in with slum dwellers, rather than help them move out. A part of a clique that offers no solutions but keeps pontificating. The same clique that has made India, the country it is, with some of the lowest HDI indicators on the planet. A country which everyone wishes to flee if they can.

  7. A wonderful tribute to an intellectual and sociological giant. I would refrain from labeling him a politician. We need many more clear headed and intelligent people like him

  8. Yogendra Yadav is a weak man. He was all for the farmers prior to elections when people were giving the BJP 200 seats or thereabouts. After the election results YY has been speaking on all subjects other than the farmers.

    In a way author’s suggestion is justified. We as a people have weak conscience, and a weak conscience keeper. But you cannot compare him with Ravish Kumar. The latter is made of much tougher material.

  9. An impression has been made to label leftists as conscience keepers. Conservative intellectuals like Swapan Dasgupta should change this misconception

  10. That is the authors opinion. I think Yogendra Yadav is nothing but a two bit hypocrite who likes to pontificate.

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